Welcome to the June Query Workshop with some of our past and present PitchWars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected many wonderful writers to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query letter for one lucky writer. The writers are anonymous. Follow along all month to view the query critiques. We welcome comments and further suggestions, but please keep them kind and respectful.
Here are the next two mentors and their critiques …
Rachel’s query critique …
Dear Ms. Agent:
I am currently seeking representation for my YA/Science Fiction novel NINE. Based upon your current wish list, I thought it might be a good fit. [I’d recommend cutting this sentence and jumping right into the query. The agent knows you’re seeking representation, and you can mention the title and genre at the end :)]
At 16 years old, Faith Monroe is willing to die for her country, just not on her government’s whim. [Why is she willing to die for her country? This is an intriguing first sentence, but what inspires this intense patriotism in Faith? I think that could be an even more attention-grabbing opener.] It’s the year 2025, and Faith’s one of many teens slated to discover her expiration date. [Just teens, or the entire population? Does everyone discover their death date when they turn a certain age? I’d love a teeny bit more information here.] There’s only one complication: the transport [Where is she going? I don’t feel grounded enough.] she’s riding in has a number of teens, including herself, who never received the death chip when they were born. [I think your hook is that Faith never received the death chip. What if you opened the query with that? I’m also starting to think that Faith is anti-death chip, considering she’s not willing to die “on her government’s whim,” as you mentioned in the first sentence. So, again: why? You don’t want so much information in your query that it gets murky with unnecessary details, but you also don’t want so little that an agent struggles to understand your world and your character’s motivation. I think you can find a nice middle between the two!] Therefore, requiring an automatic official response—certain death when they reach the facility. [Again, where is she going and why? What is the facility? I’m starting to get confused.] No death? No available soul. No way for aliens from a parallel planet to stay alive on earth. [Okay, I’m feeling lost now. I think it’s the way each sentence begins with “no.” Is there a way to mention the connection between the death chip and aliens in a single sentence that’s a bit clearer?]
Shrouded in secrecy is the real reason for the expiration date. An alien race called Niners would deliver enough raw gold to dig the U.S. out of poverty—if the U.S. supplies the souls. Ultimately, we’ll provide our planet too. It’s always been a part of the deal, even if our government’s too enamored to realize it. [These previous two sentences are confusing to me, primarily because the query has been following Faith, and now it seems to be giving information Faith and not even the U.S. know! Could you cut the previous two sentences for the sake of clarity?] For Faith [I’m concerned there’s too much focus on the government and the death chips, and not enough focus on Faith. I don’t feel she’s as active as she needs to be in the query, though I’m sure she is in the book! Can you have her take more action in this query? I’m not quite sure how she’s responding to everything that’s happening around her, and more importantly, what SHE is doing to move the story forward.] and her friends, preventing an alien assimilation of their souls is only part of their battle. Convincing the world there’s a better way to handle overpopulation than technologically killing people off is the true burden. [Ooh, this overpopulation thing is interesting. Can you touch on that in the first paragraph, since I imagine that’s why everyone has the death chips?] Faced with an impossible choice [I’m not sure I understand what the impossible choice is. Could you make this clearer? Again, this ties into making Faith more active. I’m at the end of the query, and everything I feel I know about her is based on inference. This is a great premise, and Faith sounds like a powerful, interesting character, and I want that to come across more in this query!], she’s braver than she thinks, and just maybe she’s finally found something she’d give her life for. Freedom to expire by grand design and not by government mandate. [I think you could cut this final sentence and the query would be even stronger!]
I am a published playwright with Brooklyn Publishing. NINE i
s a completed YA science fiction novel manuscript complete at 74,000 words.
Thanks for considering my query and sample pages. I look forward to hearing from you.
Hi there! You have a fascinating concept, and I love the creepiness of the government trying to control overpopulation in this manner. Overall, though, I wanted clarity on a few plot points and much more of Faith. Think about your book and all the ways she’s driving the action, and try to translate that to the query. Good luck, and thank you for letting me read!
Emmie Mears is an author, actor, and person of fannish pursuits. She writes the gamut of sci-fi and fantasy with a focus on gritty stories with a dash of screwball humour. Emmie is open to bribery in the form of sushi and bubble tea.
Emmie’s Books on sale now …
Emmie’s query critique …
Hello! First of all, thank you for giving me the chance to see your query – you’ve got a fascinating concept here, and I’ve done my best below to draw out those strengths and bring some more clarity to the through-lines of your query.
The big aspects I mention below are stakes and clarity. There are two levels of stakes you mention: the state of the unraveling universe and Amia’s personal secret/agency. Beyond that, I think a third dimension (her emotional arc) is necessary. I wanted more about her and how she is driving this action. Her emotional stakes are the glue that invest a reader in caring about both her kept-secret powers and the state of the universe as a whole.
When I critique a query, I always try to include some suggestions of what my comments could look like in action. Keep in mind that I’ve not read the entirety of your manuscript, so those comments are often guesses regarding character motivations.
One important question also is regarding genre: is this primarily fantasy or romance? If it’s primarily fantasy, the query’s focus on magic and Amia centrally makes sense. If it’s primarily a romance, it would be good to include her love interest in this. We don’t know his name or anything about him, only that perhaps his father isn’t entirely on the up and up. Something to keep in mind – it might play better as fantasy with elements of romance rather than straight fantasy romance.
I hope this is helpful!
Dear Ms. Drake,
Amia Dove lives in a rapidly unraveling world. Caused by misuse of magic, extinction events capable of destroying pieces of time and space are increasing at an alarming rate. Amia’s own erratic and unpredictable abilities have the force to destroy what little is left of the diminishing universe. For everyone’s safety, layers of mental barriers have suppressed the majority of her intense, erratic power since she was a child.
This is an interesting concept, but I think we need to start with a bit more punch here. Also, your biggest stakes are frontloaded here and not mentioned again – the universe > one person’s doomed love. Backloading those stakes would give the query more strength. Since I don’t know the source of her mental barriers, my suggestion here could be tweaked. If these stakes are fully realised in the book, there is an interesting note of human arrogance (thinking they can suppress Amia’s abilities and everything is fine to marry her off) as a nice parallel for the misuse of magical abilities causing the decay of the universe. If you thread that well through the query, it’ll have a LOT of great power. If those stakes are not threaded through the book itself, I wouldn’t put them in the query, as it alters the entire scope of the novel. It can be about both keeping the universe safe AND a love story, but the universe thing definitely needs to be maintained as the primary stakes if that’s the case.
“Amia Dove could destroy what’s left of the world.
Harboring magic within her that is as volatile as it is powerful, ______ has locked her powers away beneath layers of mental barriers for the safety of her already-fracturing universe, where magical misuse has led to holes in space and time that threaten the very fabric of reality. Her powers have been kept secret from everyone – and all Amia wants is to be able to make her own choices.”
Amia is distressed to find that she has been summoned to a betrothal ceremony where a powerful matchmaker, guided by the magic council, will choose her future husband. If any players uncover the truth, she could be brought before the council to do their bidding, whether for good or evil.
This is a little confusing – who placed these barriers on her? And does no one else know? This should be clearer. Did she cultivate the layers of mental barriers herself, or did someone else do it?
“Summoned to a betrothal ceremony by a powerful matchmaker who works under the control of the magic council, Amia must go along with their choosing of her future husband or risk exposing the truth of her powers to those on the council who would use her for their own ends.”
The betrothal process ought be textbook, but it isn’t. Instead of a suitor, Amia finds herself inexplicably drawn to the matchmaker’s son. During the day she acts the pawn, moving across the board in measured moves, but at night she uses magic to meet with her mysterious new obsession in the dreamworld.
The first sentence is a bit superfluous. We need a bit more of Amia’s emotional arc in here, and a sense of her personal stakes beyond being found out.
“Clinging to her secret, Amia acts the pawn during the day, moving across the board in measured moves. But when she finds herself increasingly drawn to the matchmaker’s son, her nights give way to using her precarious magic to meet with her mysterious new obsession in the dreamworld.”
Small coincidences begin piling up, forcing Amia to consider that the matchmaker may know more about her than she suggests.
We need a little more specifics here beyond “small coincidences.”
“As the betrothal process continues, the matchmaker’s knowledge of Amia strays dangerously close to her hidden powers, changing the game board beneath her feet.”
Caught in a prophetic web, will Amia declare her love at the risk of having it torn away, or play the pawn, forever damned to live in her dreams?
Rhetorical questions have become too common in queries; I’d use a declarative sentence here. This is also the first mention of prophecy, and we’ve heard nothing more of the universe-wide stakes.
“Teetering between being the council’s pawn and following the demands of her own love, Amia must choose between declaring her affections and revealing her powers and hiding herself away under a mask forever, and the pressure of the choice could break down the very barriers keeping her unpredictable abilities from unraveling the remaining threads of the universe.”
THE DOWRY GAME is a fantasy romance novel with series potential and is complete at 60,000 words.
Make sure you tell what category it is. This is hugely important for agents to know. If it’s YA, 60K is mostly acceptable (though a bit short for YA fantasy – genre YA tends a bit longer), but if it’s adult, 60K is very short for fantasy (usual range is 80-100K). Category romance will be around 40-60K sometimes, but those tend to be Harlequin series, etc. that are short, quick reads, monthly releases, etc. Here’s a link with some good word count info from Writer’s Digest: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post
Here’s another helpful post from former agent Colleen Lindsay: http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2008/03/on-word-counts-and-novel-length.html
While I am no magician, I do enjoy getting lost in other worlds, even if only in the literary sense. I am a member of SCBWI, have a BA in Social Science, and manage a laboratory at UC Irvine where we study cognition and the infinite power of neurons.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Amia Dove could destroy what’s left of the world.
Harboring magic within her that is as volatile as it is powerful, ______ has locked her powers away beneath layers of mental barriers for the safety of her already-fracturing universe, where magical misuse has led to holes in space and time that threaten the very fabric of reality. Her powers have been kept secret from everyone – and all Amia wants is to be able to make her own choices.
Summoned to a betrothal ceremony by a powerful matchmaker who works under the control of the magic council, Amia must go along with their choosing of her future husband or risk exposing the truth of her powers to those on the council who would use her for their own ends.
Clinging to her secret, Amia acts the pawn during the day, making her way across the board in measured moves. But when she finds herself increasingly drawn to the matchmaker’s son, her nights give way to using her precarious magic to meet with her new obsession in the dreamworld.
As the betrothal process continues, the matchmaker’s knowledge of Amia strays dangerously close to her hidden powers, changing the game board beneath her feet.
Teetering between being the council’s pawn and following the demands of her own love, Amia must choose between declaring her affections and hiding herself away under a mask forever, and the pressure of the choice could break down the very barriers keeping her unpredictable abilities from unraveling the remaining threads of the universe.
Thank you, Rachel and Emmie, for your critiques. Everyone, come back tomorrow for the next round of critiques!
Also, there’s still time to sign up on the Rafflecopter for the July First Page Workshop with our Pitch Wars past and present mentors. Go to this post here to sign up.